City prepared to go to court over Benjani transfer

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The Independent Online

Manchester City have told the Premier League that they want to go back to the beginning in their negotiations with Portsmouth for the striker Benjani Mwaruwari, but they are prepared to go to the High Court if the organisation rules today that the striker is already their player.

Portsmouth are so confident that the Premier League will decide that City have technically signed the player that they were making preparations yesterday for the press announcement. But City, who felt they were being deliberately bounced into a £7.6m deal when the Zimbabwean pitched up just 50 minutes before the transfer window closed on Thursday, have told league officials that the case of Walter Pandiani – whose transfer from Deportivo La Coruña to Birmingham City in 2005 was negotiated after the transfer window closed because there insufficient time to conclude it before midnight on deadline day – should allow them to "turn back the clock 18 hours".

Portsmouth's admission yesterday that Jermain Defoe has only joined them on loan so far – and not in a £9m transfer deal as had been stated – has strengthened a sense inside the club that their own requests for "root and branch renegotiation" should be accepted. Portsmouth stated last week that their capital outlay on Defoe had made Benjani's sale to City essential.

City want to start 75 per cent of negotiations from scratch, including those relating to the player's transfer fee, contract, medical assessment and the deal's financial structure – and would be looking to structure the deal as a loan signing until the end of the season, with Portsmouth also receiving appearance fees and an agreed fee after that.

Benjani is keener on the move than he seemed to be when he missed two flights to Manchester on Thursday. He asked City if he could attend their home match with Arsenal on Saturday, though the club told him it would be inappropriate, and has explained that he drove from Southampton to Heathrow after missing a flight. He arrived too late to catch a 7pm connection.

But City felt unsettled amid the time pressures and sources have suggested there was an acute awareness of the need for thoroughness because Benjani's transfer from Auxerre to Portsmouth was one of the deals investigated by Lord Stevens' inquiry.

In court, City might conceivably cite the inadequacy of the player's medical. Benjani is said to have arrived in Manchester without a document and there was only time for a cursory examination. The club will not discuss suggestions that an old knee injury had shown up in the medical.

Benjani's signature is also thought to have been missing from at least one document which arrived at the Premier League, which could be legally significant.

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